The actor's 27-year stretch in Hollywood has brought with it several Ellison-like moments. "I know a lot more about this kind of feeling than Scott and Cargill do, honestly," continues Hawke. "I've lived through so many ups and downs in my career. Fame is a funny god to chase. It's a fickle monster, so I related to that part of the story; it was really fun to me. It's a really interesting scene to have tucked away in a horror movie, the image of this guy watching old video tapes of him being interviewed during the finest hours of his youth. There's something so sad about that."
It's All About the Scares: The Unique Ways in Which Sinister Endlessly Disturbs
If there's one facet of Sinister that should lend the film an inarguable degree of genre credibility, it's the presence of Hawke, an actor who's earned the right to be picky when it comes to roles. And who, he admits, isn't the biggest horror movie buff.
"I just tend to go to the best ones, because I'm not a true aficionado where I like all the different versions," says Hawke. "I like them whenever the acting is good in them. For example, if you really just study the acting in Alien, the acting is amazing in that movie. Or Jaws or Rosemary's Baby, or Sissy Spacek in Carrie and even Jennifer Carpenter in Scott's movie [The Exorcism of Emily Rose]. I watch movies with such an eye for performance that I don't have the pleasure to simply enjoy movies like Halloween or Friday the 13th—they're not as fun for me because I'm such a student of acting. I get less impressed by movies like those."
What does impress Hawke, though, is a scary story that really goes for it. "Sinister is about how watching the horror movies is what possesses you," he adds, "and that's a really subversive, fucked-up idea. I love it."
Sinister's truly messed-up yet morbidly wonderful shocks come in the forms of the Super-8 movies that Ellison watches in wide-eyed, can't-look-away awe. Essentially mini snuff films, the five home movies make up the black, beating heart of Derrickson's picture. Fully aware of their importance, the director took an unconventional route in shooting them: He tasked cinematographer Chris Norr with filming the clips before Sinister's Long Island production began. Tucked away in California's San Fernando Valley, Norr, Derrickson, and the rest of their crew staged some of the most inventive and cruelest cinematic murders to come around in quite a long time.
To accentuate the Super-8 films' creepiness, Derrickson made another nontraditional move. Before Norr and company even loaded up their cameras, Derrickson spent weeks scouring the Internet to find the most obscure and most unsettling music available, which he'd then use to score the Super-8 sequences and add extra layers of uncomfortable ambiance.
"I felt that the Super 8 films in particular, but also specific sections of the movie, like the whole last 15 minutes, needed to have pre-recorded music," says Derrickson. "I wanted to have a real sense of how that sound and music was going to work before I started shooting, so I spent a good couple of weeks scouring the Internet and looking for really original, really horrifying music that had a certain beauty to it but was still bone-chilling. The pieces that I had found were unconnected, mostly European, and some of them were tracks by bands or artists that don't do things that are particularly scary but happened to do this one track that was really frightening."
With Blum's help, Derrickson bought the rights to the nine songs heard in Sinister. Cleverly, he made sure that the music was heard by all involved while filming the movie as well. For the actual Super-8 shoots, Derrickson set up a massive speaker system that allowed Norr to hear the songs as he moved the camera; and for the scenes in which Ellison views the films, Hawke was able to both hear the music and actually watch the footage, which brought a sharp authenticity to the actor's performance. "That was great for me," says Hawke. "I just love the way they photographed those. There's something so spooky and, at the same time, almost beautiful about them."
Derrickson's online researching didn't stop with Sinister's music. Without giving too much away, the film's primary antagonist is an ancient deity, imagined by Cargill via endless books about the occult, known as Bughuul, or "Mr. Boogie," as he's affectionately referred to throughout Sinister. Derrickson knew that Mr. Boogie, who was a part of Cargill's initial Mandalay Bay pitch, needed an iconic, undeniably scary look. Returning to his trusty computer, the director logged onto Flickr and went to work looking at photos.
"I had no idea what I was going to make Bughuul look like," says Derrickson. "I clicked through tens of thousands of images on Flickr and created a folder full of scary pictures and then edited that down to about 15 really great scary images. I sent the folder to Cargill and said, 'I'm looking for a jumping-off point for Bughuul; tell me which of these images you think are the scariest.' And he identified this one specific image as being scarier than the rest. It was a picture called 'Natalie,' and I still have no idea why. When I got that email back from him, I took a look at that picture and it was in that moment that it occurred to me, 'Wait, what if it was just this?'"
Between the music and Mr. Boogie's physical makeup, the World Wide Web played a huge part in making Sinister as frightening as it is. "The Internet is an amazing resource for creating material if people take the time to dig into it when they're making movies," says Derrickson. "There's some amazing stuff out there."
As Hawke sees it, Derrickson's resourcefulness was the byproduct of necessity, but nevertheless impressive. "There's a great advantage whenever you don't have that much money: You have to have ideas," he says. "What Scott did with this movie is the same principle that was at work with Richard Linklater in Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, and that's absolute, utter simplicity. When you can work with really clean lines, you can make a really good film, and Scott had a really clear vision of what this movie would sound like and what the mood was. That's how you make a really good movie."